One of the top ways to create a healthier U.S. honey bee industry - which in turn can lead to successful crop pollination and honey production - is additional funding for expanded apiculture (beekeeping) research.

More dollars are needed to improve the honey bee industry which can benefit agriculture as a whole.

“Beekeeping has never had the needed research dollars or inputs to study its problems as other sectors of agriculture have had,” says entomologist Dick Rogers who has 35 years in the bee business as an entomologist.

Rogers is the bee research manager at the new Bayer Bee Care Center for North America located in Research Triangle Park, N.C. which opened to the public April 15.

“Beekeeping has always worked on a shoestring (budget) basically,” the veteran bug man said. “There are new research dollars coming along which will definitely help things progress.”

Honey bees pollinate one-third of the world’s food supply – in other words, one-out-of-three bites of food the consumer eats. About 140 crops are pollinated by bees.

The largest demand for honey bee pollination is the California almond industry. This spring, 1.6 million honey bee colonies pollinated California’s 840,000 bearing acres of almonds.

Almond pollination is the largest pollination event in the world. Without honey bees, the $4.3 billion California almond industry would almost cease to exist.

Bees and the crop production engine

“Honey bees are the spark that starts the crop production engine,” Rogers said. “If you can’t start your car without a spark you won’t go very far. The same is true of honey bees.”

Rogers and other honey bee specialists discussed the U.S. honey bee business – its successes and challenges - during the Southwest Ag Summit held in Yuma, Ariz. this spring.

Other speakers included beekeepers Thomas “Rick” Smith of Yuma and Bret Adee of Bruce, S.D., plus Christi Heinz of the bee research organization Project Apis m.

For three decades, the apiculture (beekeeping) industry has been in transition. Rogers says responding accurately to the industry’s challenges can keep the beekeeping business solvent.

Today, the top pest threat to the U.S. honey bee industry is the dastardly varroa mite pest, introduced in 1987. USDA calls the external parasite the most detrimental pest of honey bees in the northern hemisphere.

The mite attaches itself to the body of the honey bee species Apis cerana and Apis mellifer and sucks hemolymph fluid (blood) out of the bee. Varroa is such a devilish pest that a severe infestation can kill the entire honey bee colony. Varroa mites, at various numbers, are found in every hive in the U.S.

This pest madness reiterates the call for additional bee research and funding.

“If it was easy to fix varroa we would have done it already,” Rogers said. “There is no silver bullet or adequate integrated pest management (IPM) strategy” for the pest.

Limited IPM methods can help control varroa, Rogers says, but none are economically viable now.